The Supreme Court for the first time in history, on Monday, ordered the reinstatement of ousted Kerala DGP T.P. Senkumar, sending out a clear message that police officers cannot be made "scapegoats" by politicians in power.
In a resounding blow to Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government, a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Dipak Gupta held that Mr. Senkumar has been "unfairly treated" by the newly formed government.
The decision is likely to have repercussions in States were police chiefs were removed by the political dispensation against the Supreme Court's ruling in Prakash Singh that DGP should have a fixed tenure of two years and not be subject to the whims of the political powers in the State.
"On an overall consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that Mr. Senkumar has been unfairly treated. We have no hesitation in setting aside the judgment and directing the reappointment of the petitioner," the Supreme Court held.
The decision would unseat the present DGP Lokanath Behara.
Senkumar, who was removed as State Police chief, by the LDF government immediately on assuming office, had approached the Supreme Court after failing in his bid to get a favourable order from the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
The LDF government had removed him contending that his handling of the Puttingal firework disaster and the rape and murder of the Dalit law student at Perumbavoor were “totally unsatisfactory.” The CAT had taken the position that the State government was well within its power to remove him from the post.
Senkumar, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocates Prashant Bhushan and Haris Beeran, launched a strident personal attack against Mr. Vijayan in the Supreme Court, accusing the Chief Minister of removing him for "political motives".
"My performance is 9 put of 10. I was in no way directly responsible for the two cases (Puttingal and Dalit student murder). If that is the case, 96 police officers were transferred by this government. Nine political murders occurred in the State. Will the Chief Minister, who is also the Home Minister, take responsibility? If not, why should the Chief Minister say I should take responsibility?" Mr. Dave had submitted.
Dave said there should be "some semblance of law".
Justice Lokur had orally remarked that posting and removal of police officers has become "extremely subjective."
Reacting to the judgment, Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the Chief Minister had lost his moral right to continue office with the overturning of his government's decision by the apex court.
By this verdict, Vijayan, who even made disparaging remarks against Senkumar in the assembly and imputed political motives, is completely exposed. Although the finer details of the verdict are not yet available, reportedly the Court has said that the Government had indeed treated him badly.
Bringing back a man, that he disgraced as no chief minister in the state has done in the past, as the head of his police force will be a huge embarrassment for Vijayan, who is also the home minister.
The victory will give Senkumar the moral high-ground that he has been claiming all the while. For Vijayan, a veteran leader celebrated by his followers for his tough resolve, the loss of face cannot be worse because the man who has won against him will be the chief commander of his force now.
What makes matters worse for Vijayan is that he is already in trouble with public demand rising for the scalp of one more of his ministers - this time, the "1-2-3" killer-speech fame MM Mani. At a public speech on Sunday, Mani made obscene and sexually suggestive remarks against “Pompilai Orumai”, a famous uprising of women plantation labourers that shook the state in October last.
This was close on the heels of another derogatory remark by Mani against a very popular young IAS officer whom he called “ugly” and “lunatic”.
Mani is a serial offender in bad behaviour and has made sexist and obscene remarks about people in public roles earlier as well. But this time, there is protest even from within his own party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), with some women leaders expressing outrage.
Mani is still defiant, but the controversy is unlikely to blow over easily. “Pompilai Orumai" leaders are on a protest that’s gaining increasing traction with general public. If Vijayan finally is forced to drop Mani too, it will be his third casualty in less than a year. In the earlier instances, he lost one minister to corruption charges and another to a sting operation by a media house.
Although Vijayan had come to power on the back of a very strong majority in the 2016 assembly elections, things haven’t been going easy for him - mostly because of his intransigence, multiple instances of alleged human rights violations by his police, and a number of incidents that he couldn’t handle with care.
The state’s electronic media, that was severe on his predecessor Oomen Chandy, is unsparing and has been raising unpleasant questions in every prime time discussion, and the party, thanks to its “democratic centralist” structure, is clueless as to how to handle dissent. With each instance of adversity, Vijayan has become more defiant and his coterie has amplified it by adopting his style. It’s certainly not working.
Vijayan also has trouble brewing in his LDF (Left Democratic Front - the ruling coalition) camp with the Communist Party of India (CPI) trying to protect its political and policy turf. On every unpopular decision for which the CPM came under fire, the CPI didn’t support it blindly and spoke a language of conscience and dissent.
Right now, it’s literally at loggerheads with the CPM, particularly Vijayan, on acting against alleged land-grabs in Munnar, a hill station in the Western Ghats. This has been a political hot potato for years because the district leadership of the CPI-M is against evictions and has always tried to block any such move by successive governments. In fact, Mani’s latest outburst against an IAS officer is in connection with the latter’s efforts to evict illegal occupations on government land.
The CPI wants to protect is political sovereignty because the revenue department is its domain, not Vijayan’s or the CPM’s, and hence it cannot compromise on eviction of illegal occupation. Vijayan and the CPM want to rein in the CPI because their district leaders are furious.
The war of words is out in the open and the apparent message from the CPM leadership is that it doesn’t support the ongoing eviction because it affects a lot of people with small holdings, while both the media and the CPI are of the view that the argument is only a ruse to protect the “resort mafia” who have usurped most of the precious government land in the area with the support of political leaders, particularly from the CPI-M.
Unfortunately, by removing Senkumar from the post of the DGP and appointing an officer of his choice in his place didn’t help Vijayan at a all because all that the new man brought home were controversies and misadventures. In fact, much of Vijayan’s loss of popularity was on account of his bad police.
The question now is how soon Senkumar can get back to his office and thumb his nose at Vijayan. If Vijayan and his party try legal tricks to keep him out till his superannuation in June, it will only invite more infamy. Being a hardliner may be a virtue in an old communist party, but not in a democracy.
Senkumar told the media that the verdict was in continuation of the Prakash Singh case that would be applicable to all the States.